Gershwin was actually a composer who, like Puccini, was more clever than truly inspired, but he did create a handful of fascinating pieces that have persisted in the public mind for nearly a century. These are my favorite recordings of them.
GERSHWIN: An American in Paris. Rhapsody in Blue. Cuban Overture / Paul Whiteman and his Concert Orchestra; George Gershwin, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles
There wasn’t much that Paul Whiteman really did well, but playing Gershwin was one of them. But even so, you have to sort through his different performances of Gershwin to find the ones that really jump out at you. The three listed above are all gems and indispensable to anyone who loves Gershwin. The American in Paris comes from a 1951 Capitol recording session with a really frisky-sounding studio orchestra; this Rhapsody in Blue is the abridged acoustic recording from June 10, 1924 with Gershwin himself at the piano; and the Cuban Overture, too often overlooked as one of the composer’s best pieces, is a 1944 V-Disc recording that really takes off.
This oft-overlooked gem is the liveliest and best-played of all performances of this hybrid concerto I’ve ever heard, the reason for the success largely due to the fantastic conducting of one Michael Francis who owns this music. Don’t miss it!
GERSHWIN: Preludes for Piano (3) / George Gershwin, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
Once you’ve heard Gershwin himself play these preludes, you won’t want to hear anyone else. It’s not that his technique per se is better than anyone else’s—it’s not—but rather the forward press of the music and the way he “crushes” notes and chords. You will also be surprised at how much faster he played the central “Blues” than most other pianists.
GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue / Bratislava Hot Serenaders; Ladislav Fanzowitz, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
The Bratislava who? You’ll be surprised, that’s all I have to say. Next to the abridged 1924 Whiteman-Gershwin recording, this is the hottest Rhapsody in Blue you’ll ever hear. Everyone else sounds pale by comparison.
GERSHWIN: Second Rhapsody [Rhapsody in Rivets] / Oscar Levant, pianist; Morton Gould and his Orchestra / available for free streaming on YouTube
The oft-overlooked Second Rhapsody is actually better than the first, even better than the Piano Concerto. This mid-1940s recording is the definitive performance.
Gesualdo, Don Carlo
GESUALDO: Complete Madrigals / Delitiæ Musicæ; Marco Longhini, conductor / Naxos 8.507013
The personally sleazy but musically brilliant Carlo Gesualdo wrote some of the most intricate, forward-looking and innovative music of his time, and these performances are absolutely superb.
GETTY: 4 Emily Dickinson Songs / Lisa Delan, soprano; Kristin Pankonin, pianist / part of PentaTone 5186459 or available for free streaming on YouTube: Safe in their alabaster chambers, There’s a certain slant of light, A bird came down the walk, Because I could not stop for death
GETTY: Joan and the Bells / Lisa Delan, soprano;Vladimir Chernov, baritone; Eric Ericson Chamber Choir; Russian National Orchestra; Alexander Vedernikov, conductor / PentaTone 5186017 or available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2, part 3,
GETTY: Usher House / Christian Elsner, tenor (Poe); Etienne Dupuis, baritone (Roderick); Philip Ens, bass (Dr. Primus); Lisa Delan, soprano (Madeline); Benedict Cumberbatch, narrator (Attendant); Gulbenkian Orchestra; Lawrence Foster, conductor / PentaTone 5186451 or available in separate pieces for free streaming on YouTube
GETTY: The White Election / Lisa Delan, soprano; Fritz Steinegger, pianist / PentaTone 5186451 or available for free streaming in separate pieces on YouTube
Gordon Getty is often slighted by critics (and audiences) because he is a billionaire, which to me is like shunning the late violinist Albert Spaulding because his father was a millionaire. So what? Either you have the talent or you don’t, and from the first time I heard Getty’s 4 Emily Dickinson Songs, at an open-air operatic and vocal concert in Cincinnati back in the 1980s, I knew he was a really fine composer.
The other reason Getty was shunned for decades had nothing to do with his wealth, but because he writes melodic, tonal music. Well, once again…open your ears and stop your prejudices. Getty’s music, as you will hear, is not merely beautiful to hear but extremely well written. It is by no means “purely pretty” music, and in fact I find it more challenging than many an avant-garde composer who just writes unintelligible musical questions with no answers. His operatic treatment of Usher House is not quite as fine as Debussy’s, but then again, Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue isn’t quite as great as Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. The point is that Getty approached the text and an operatic treatment of it in an entirely original way and came up with a work that is satisfying and dramatic. His dramatic cantata on the life of Joan of Arc, Joan and the Bells, is as concise and dramatically effective as anything you are likely to hear, and his later, much longer series of Dickinson songs, The White Election, is equally as brilliant as his earlier work.
I only gave four and a half fish to the solo vocal recordings by soprano Lisa Delan because, though she has fairly good diction and is an interesting singer, she has an unsteady flutter in her voice, thus I can well imagine them better sung by others. But will they be? That remains to be seen. As of this writing, these are the only recordings of these splendid works.
Ghedini, Giorgio Federico
GHEDINI: Architetture. Concerto of the Albatross, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5*. Contrappunti. Marinaresca e Bacchanale / Paolo Ghidoni, violinist; Pietro Bosna, cellist; Emanuela Piedmonti, pianist; Carlo Doglioni, Majer, speaker; *Orchestra I Pomeriggi Musicali; *Damian Iorio, conductor; Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma; Francesco La Vecchia, conductor / Naxos 8.573006 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles
GHEDINI: Concerto Spirituale for 2 Sopranos, Women’s Chorus and Orchestra / Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Ls Fenice; Dmitrij Kitayenko, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
GHEDINI: Musica da Concerto for Viola and Strings / Augusto Vismara, violist; Instrumental Group “Musica d’Oggi”; Karl Martin, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
GHEDINI: Studi per un Affresco di Battaglia / Orchestra Haydn di Trento e Bolzano; Claudio Abbado, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Giorgio Ghedini was one of a number of Italian composers dedicated to writing modern music, and particularly instrumental music, in the style of Mahler and Stravinsky, and it is a real shame that his work is not better known. Each of these pieces has something striking and interesting to say, and each performance is well played and interesting, although for some reason Claudio Abbado’s 1962 performance of the Studi per un Affresco di Battaglia is in mono rather than stereo. I don’t believe your collection of classical music is complete without some Ghedini in it.
Gilbert & Sullivan
GILBERT-SULLIVAN: H.M.S. Pinafore (without dialogue) / Henry Lytton, baritone (Sir Joseph Porter); George Baker, baritone (Capt. Corcoran); Charles Goulding, tenor (Ralph Rackstraw); Darrell Fancourt, baritone (Dick Deadeye); Sydney Granville, bass (Bill Bobstay); Elsie Griffin, soprano (Josephine); Bertha Lewis, contralto (Little Buttercup); Nellie Briercliffe, soprano (Hebe); D’Oyly Carte Opera Chorus; London Symphony Orchestra; Sir Malcolm Sargent, conductor / available for free streaming or download here
GILBERT-SULLIVAN: Iolanthe (without dialogue) / George Baker, baritone (Lord Chancellor); Darrell Fancourt, baritone (George); Derek Oldham, tenor (Earl Tolloller); Sydney Granville, bass (Private Willis); Nellie Briercliffe, soprano (Iolanthe); Bertha Lewis, contralto (Fairy Queen); Leslie Rands, baritone (Strephon); Nellie Walker, mezzo-soprano (A Fairy); D’Oyly Carte Opera Chorus; London Symphony Orchestra; Sir Malcolm Sargent, conductor / available for free streaming or download here
GILBERT-SULLIVAN: The Mikado (without dialogue) / Derek Oldham, tenor (Nanki-Poo); Henry Lytton, baritone (Ko-Ko); Leo Sheffield, baritone (Pooh-Bah); George Baker, baritone (Pish-Tush); Elsie Griffin, soprano (Yum-Yum); Beatrice Elburn, soprano (Peep-Bo); Darrell Fancourt, baritone (Mikado); Bertha Lewis, contralto (Katisha); D’Oyly-Carte Opera Orchestra & Chorus; Harry Norris, conductor / available for free streaming or download here
GILBERT-SULLIVAN: Patience (without dialogue) / Winifred Lawson, soprano (Patience); Darrell Fancourt, baritone (Colonel); Martyn Green, baritone (Major); Derek Oldham, tenor (Duke); George Baker, baritone (Bunthorne); Leslie Rands, baritone (Grosvenor); Nellie Briercliffe, soprano (Lady Angela); Bertha Lewis, contralto (Lady Jane); D’Oyle-Carte Opera Chorus; London Symphony Orchestra; Sir Malcolm Sargent, conductor / available for free streaming or download here
GILBERT-SULLIVAN: The Pirates of Penzance (without dialogue) / Derek Oldham, tenor (Frederic); Stuart Robinson, baritone (Samuel); George Baker, baritone (Maj.-Gen. Stanley); Peter Dawson, bass-baritone (Pirate King); Elsie Griffin, soprano (Mabel); Leo Sheffield, baritone (Police Sergeant); Nellie Briercliffe, soprano (Edith); Dorothy Gill, contralto (Ruth); D’Oyle-Carte Opera Chorus; London Symphony Orchestra; Sir Malcolm Sargent, conductor / available for free streaming or download here
Trivia time: Did you know that Sir Arthur Sullivan actually wrote operettas without librettos by William Schwenck Gilbert? It’s true. After the poor reception of their last joint work, The Grand Duke, in 1896, Gilbert announced his retirement, but Sullivan went on writing music until his death in 1900. But even before then, the pair had a falling out over the cost of carpet. Richard d’Oyly Carte, who owned the theater where the operettas played, realized that the rich red carpeting in the lobby was wearing out after years of happy audiences tromping in and out, but since the replacement price was rather costly he approached both Gilbert and Sullivan and asked them to chip in a bit. The easy-going Sullivan had no problem with it, but the more prickly Gilbert balked, flatly stating that Carte had made a series of financial blunders over the years and it wasn’t his responsibility to pay for replacement parts. And yet, after Sullivan’s death, Gilbert surprisingly came out of retirement and acted as stage director of the D’Oyly-Carte Company for a few years.
The Gilbert & Sullivan comic operettas were all the rage in London during the 1880s and ‘90s despite the carping of music critic George Bernard Shaw, who thought them too “churchy” and not as ribald and unbuttoned as the French operettas of Offenbach. Over the years, however, they retained their appeal, primarily to English-speaking audiences, due to the extremely witty texts that Gilbert wrote. Since the 1970s, however, interest in their work has fallen off.
I’ve heard a fairly large number of G&S operetta recordings, and to my mind the ones conducted by Harry Norris and especially Sir Malcolm Sargent are by far the best, despite the fact that most of these recordings lack the sparkling dialogue which explains the story and adds to the hilarity. The reason is not nostalgia for a bunch of old recordings but, rather, the fact that these performances have the feel of authenticity about them. Sir Henry Lytton was a favorite performer of both composer and librettist, and though he is clearly past his vocal prime here (from about 1907 onward, British critics complained that he served Gilbert much better than Sullivan), his wry, tongue-in-cheek delivery is clearly appealing. So too are the performances of staff singers Darrell Fancourt, tenor Derek Oldham, contraltos Bertha Lewis and Dorothy Gill, and as I said earlier, the taut, musical leadership of Sargent. One should also not overlook the splendid singing of soprano Elsie Griffin, who was so good that Oldham used to hang around rehearsals even when he wasn’t performing just to hear her sing (he called her “the operetta Nellie Melba”), and d’Oyly Carte paid her extra to rehearse the ladies’ chorus because she had perfect pitch. Ironically, Griffin was the singer who introduced one of the most famous songs of all time, Roses of Picardy, yet she never recorded it. Extremely shy offstage, Griffin left the company shortly after the 1926 recording of The Mikado but was so highly admired by Sargent that he kept bringing her back for further recordings.
Many people also tend to think, based on his presence on so many of the recordings, that baritone George Baker was a member of the company, but he wasn’t. He was simply a singer who Rupert d’Oyly Carte and Sargent greatly admired for his lovely tone and crisp diction, and so they kept recording him in the studio. But Baker never actually performed in public except on the radio until the late 1950s, when he finally agreed to play a small role onstage in one of the G&S operettas. Bass-baritone Peter Dawson, who makes a guest appearance as the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance, was also a ringer.
I’ve only given these recordings 4 ½ fish (the Mikado only four) because of the dated sound, plus the fact that the dialogue is missing, but you can always splice in the dialogue from one of the later G&S operetta recordings if you like. Still, these are by far the most musical and enjoyable performances of these classic works.
GINASTERA: Cancion al arbol del olvido, Op. 3. Triste / Stephanie Houtzeel, mezzo-soprano; Charles Spencer, pianist / part of Capriccio C5262 (see collections: Houtzeel) or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles
GINASTERA: Cinco cancions populares Argentinas / Lawrence Brownlee, tenor; Ian Burnside, pianist / part of Opus Arte 9015 (see collections: Brownlee) or available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5
GINASTERA: Danzas Argentinas, part 1, part 2, part 3 Suite de Danzas Criollas, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 / Katarzyna Musiał, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on parts listed above (also see collections: Musiał)
GINASTERA: Estancia, Op. 8 (complete ballet)/ Luis Gaeta, narrator; London Symphony Orchestra; Gisèle Ben-Dor, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
GINASTERA: Harp Concerto / Vera Badings, harpist; Concertgebouw Orchestra; Jésus Lopez-Cobos, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
GINASTERA: Panambi, Op. 1 (complete ballet). Piano Concerto No. 2 /Xiayin Wang, pianist; BBC Philharmonic Orchestra; Juanjo Mena, conductor / Chandos 10923
GINASTERA: Popul Vuh: The Mayan Creation / BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Gisèle Ben-Dor, conductor / part of Naxos 8.570999 or available for free streaming on YouTube in small segments
Alberto Ginastera was one of the most inventive and original musical minds of the 20th century, and it is criminal to my mind that he is not thought of in the same category as Bartók or Prokofiev, at the very least. The music listed above does not include all of his finest works, but a great many of them. I have omitted his opera Bomarzo because, despite his ingenuity and inspiration, the music just doesn’t work that well—but then, writing an opera is a far more difficult task than most people realize, and many a great composer has failed at the task (among them George Gershwin, Kaija Saariaho and Daniel Schnyder).
Principal among Ginestera’s great works, for me, are his two ballets Estancia and Panambi, the Harp Concerto and Popul Vuh. All of these are given splendid performances in the recordings listed above, particularly the Harp Concerto which was written for the great British artist Osian Ellis. I heard Ellis play this concerto in person and can attest that he, like Vera Badings, played with tremendous verve and energy whereas so many other harpists don’t. I am also enamored of the playing of both Katarzyna Musiał and Barbara Nissman in the solo piano pieces, and both Gisèle Ben-Dor and Juanjo Mena conduct his ballets and Popul Vuh with tremendous energy and insight. These are splendid recordings, and if you think I went overboard here with the six-fish recommendations, listen to the performances before you judge.
GIORDANO: Andrea Chenier / Beniamino Gigli, tenor (Andrea Chénier); Gino Bechi, baritone (Carlos Gérard); Maria Caniglia, soprano (Maddalena); Maria Huder, mezzo-soprano (Bersi); Giulietta Simionato, mezzo (Contessa); Vittoria Palombini, mezzo (Madelon); Italo Tajo, bass (Roucher); Giuseppe Taddei, baritone (Flevile/Fouquier); Teatro alla Scala, Milan Orchestra & Chorus; Oliviero de Fabritiis, conductor / EMI Studio 69996 or available for free streaming on YouTube: Act 1, Act 2, Act 3 pt 1, Act 3 pt 2, Act 4
Although Fedora and Siberia also have their admirers (though not many), Giordano has remained essentially a one-hit opera composer though he never understood why it was Andrea Chenier. I can explain it to him in one word: sincerity. This opera takes a true story, brings it to vivid life, and dresses it up in music which is Puccini-like yet in many ways far better than most of Puccini’s operas. There have been many fine recordings over the decades, but this one is the touchstone performance. Beniamino Gigli, the possessor of a gorgeous voice who often sang in a sloppy, over-glotted style, never sang more cleanly or more hinestly than he does here, and the rest of the cast—Caniglia, Bechi, and the young singers Giulietta Simionato and Italo Tajo in supporting roles—bring very character to life with astonishing verve. Actually, though the tenor is the star of the show, the crux of the drama actually revolves around Gérard and his fluctuating moods and desires. It’s truly a great work.
Gluck, Christoph Willibald
GLUCK: Alceste / Robert Tear, tenor (Admète); Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano (Alceste); John Shirley-Quirk, bass-bar (Grand Prêtre); Maldwyn Davies, tenor (Évandre); Philip Gelling, bass (Heraut d’armes/Apollon); Jonathan Summers, bass (Hercule); Matthew Best, bass-baritone (L’Oracle); Janice Hooper Roe, mezzo (Coryphee); Elaine Mary Hall, soprano (Coryphee); Royal Opera, Covent Garden Orch. & Chorus; Sir Charles Mackerras, conductor / Royal Opera House Heritage Series 10 (live: December 12, 1981)
The Historically-Informed Historical crowd has a cow over a performance like this: not enough of their God-awful Straight Tone in the strings, and not fast enough tempos in some places. They can have it. This is the greatest performance of Alceste you will ever hope to hear, with Janet Baker sounding surprisingly youthful for 1981 and Charles Mackerras leading a scintillating performance from the orchestra pit. A true Desert Island recording.
GLUCK: Armide / Mireille Delunsch, soprano (Armide); Charles Workman, tenor (Renaud); Laurent Naouri, bass (Hidraot); Ewa Podles, contralto (La Haine); Françoise Masset, sop. (Phénice/Mélisse); Nicole Heaston, soprano (Sidonie/Lucinde); Magdalena Kožena, mezzo (Un Plaisir); Brett Polegato, tenor (Ubalde); Orch. & Chorus of Les Musiciens du Louvre; Marc Minkowski, conductor / DG Archiv 459616
Armide is far less known to Gluck aficionados than Orfeo, Alceste or Iphigénie en Tauride, but Toscanini thought enough of it to stage a production at the Metropolitan Opera in 1910 with Olive Fremstad and Enrico Caruso (it flopped). This recording led by Marc Minkowski brings the music to vivid life, and the singers are adequate enough to make the score work.
GLUCK: Iphigénie en Aulide (in German) / Elisabeth Steiner, soprano (Artemis); Walter Berry, baritone (Agamemnon); Inge Borkh, soprano (Klytämnestra); Christa Ludwig, contralto (Iphigenie); James King, tenor (Achilles); Otto Edelmann, baritone (Kalchas); Alois Pernerstorfer, baritone (Arkas); Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Karl Böhm, conductor / Orfeo 428962
This earlier Iphigénie opera is often considered weaker than Iphigénie en Tauride, largely because of its more lyrical style and weaker orchestra, but this wholly non-authentic performance from the early 1960s brings the music to vivid Gluckian life. Particularly superb in this cast are Inge Borkh as Klytämnestra, Christa Ludwig as Iphigénie, and James King as Achilles, but everyone pitches in and Karl Böhm conducts with fire and verve.
GLUCK: Iphigénie en Tauride / Carol Vaness, soprano (Iphigénie); Giorgio Surian, baritone (Thoas); Thomas Allen, baritione (Oreste); Gösta Winbergh, tenor (Pylade); Anna Zoroberto, soprano (First Priestess); Michaela Remor, mezzo (Second Priestess); Teatro alla Scala, Milan Orchestra & Chorus; Riccardo Muti, conductor / Sony Classical 52492
Gluck’s greatest dramatic masterpiece, starting with one of the most thrilling entrance arias of all time by the title character but eventually evolving into a psychological drama of survival and self-sacrifice offered by Pylade and Oreste to each other. This recording led by Riccardo Muti has an almost flawless cast and is the best stereo or digital version available.
GLUCK: Orphée et Eurydice (arr. Berlioz) / Vesselina Kasarova, mezzo (Orphée); Rosemary Joshua, soprano (Eurydice); Deborah York, soprano (Amour); Bavarian State Orchestra and Chorus; Ivor Bolton, conductor / Farao 108045, DVD
A visually OK but vocally stunning performance of Gluck’s first acknowledged masterpiece, with both the mezzo and the conductor riveting your attention to the musical detail.
Gomes, Antonio Carlos
GOMES: Il Guarany / José Perrota, bass (Don Antonio de Mariz); Niza de Castro Tank, soprano (Cecilia); Manrico Patassini, tenor (Pery); Paschoal Raymundo, tenor (Don Alvaro); Paulo Fortes, baritone (Gonzales); Juan Carlos Ortiz, bass (Il Cacico); Roque Lotti, tenor (Ruy Bento); Waldimiro Furlan, bass (Alonso); Orquestra Sinfónica e Coro de São Paulo; Armando Belardi, conductor / Andromeda 9115, available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits
Now all but forgotten outside Gomes’ native Brazil, Il Guarany is an interesting and often exciting opera, but only in the hands of singers to the manner born. In 1994 Sony Classical put out a brand spanking new digital recording of it with Veronica Villarel and Placido Domingo, but the performance completely failed to catch fire. This 1959 mono recording, with a cast of virtual unknowns, is absolutely mesmerizing from start to finish.
GÓRECKI: Beatus Vir, Op. 38. Symphony No. 2, “Copernicus*” / Andrzej Dobber, baritone; *Zofia Kilanowicz, soprano; Polish Radio Choir; Silesian Philharmonic Choir; Polish National Radio Symphony Orch.; Antoni Wit, conductor / Naxos 8.555375, also available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking titles above
GÓRECKI: Concerto for Five Instruments and String Quartet: 1st mvmt; 2nd mvmt; 3rd mvmt; 4th mvmt. Requiem für Eine Polka for Piano & 13 Instruments. Three Songs, Op. 3: song 1, song 2, song 3. Toccata for 2 Pianos. Two Sacred Songs: song 1, song 2. Valentine Piece for Solo Flute & Little Bell. Variations for Violin & Piano / Anna Wolstenholme, flautist; Duncan Prescott, clarinetist; Thomas Kemp, Fiona McNaught, violinists; Joel Hunter, violist; Ronan Collett, baritone; Stephen de Pledge, pianist; Owen Gunnell, handbells / Landor 287, or available for free streaming by clicking on individual titles above
GÓRECKI: Concerto-Cantata for Flute & Orchestra: 1st mvmt, 2nd mvmt, 3rd mvmt, 4th mvmt. 3 Dances, Op. 34: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3. Harpsichord Concerto (version for piano). Little Requiem for a Certain Polka: 1st mvmt, 2nd mvmt, 3rd mvmt, 4th mvmt / Carol Wincenc, flautist; Anna Górecka, pianist; Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra; Antoni Wit, conductor / Naxos 8.572872 or available for free streaming by clicking on titles above
GÓRECKI: Symphony No. 3, Op. 36, “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.” 3 Olden Style Pieces: piece 1, piece 2, piece 3 / Zofia Kilanowicz, soprano; Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra; Antoni Wit, conductor / Naxos 8.550822 or available for free streaming by clicking on titles above
The deceptively simple yet deeply-felt music of the late Henryk Górecki occupies a unique place in both Polish and world culture, but in the case of the latter this only covers one work, the Symphony No. 3 or “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.” This piece became a best-seller when Nobnesuch issued a recording of it with soprano Dawn Upshaw and conductor David Zinman, but Górecki was neither very pleased with the slick, rather shallow performance nor the fact that people were using his music to “mellow out.” He wrote the symphony as a requiem for all those who lost their mothers, or mothers who lost children, in the Holocaust or in World War II, not as a means of zoning out after a stressful day at work. As a result of this, Górecki steadfastly refused to allow any of his other works to be recorded or issued for the same purpose. The recording listed here, by soprano Zofia Kilanowicz and conductor Antoni Wit, was his preferred performance of this great symphony.
But as you can see from the above listing, Górecki’s talent scarcely stopped with symphonies. He also wrote solo piano music, chamber music and other orchestral pieces including concertos. All of his music shares the same deep, soulful passion that one hears in the Third Symphony, though expressed in different ways in his other works. All of these performances are splendid and the whole series will give you a much wider window into the mind of this magnificent composer.
GOSSEC: Grande Messe de Morts*. Symphony in 17 Parts# / Roberta Invernizzi, soprano; Maite Arruabarrena, mezzo-soprano; Howard Crook, tenor; Claude Darbellay, bass; Gruppo Vocale Cantemus; Swiss Radio Chorus; Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana; *Diego Fasolis, conductor; #Wolf-Dieter Hauschild, conductor / Naxos 8.554750-51, also available in small bits for streaming on YouTube
The music of François-Joseph Gossec was highly unusual for its day, the mid-18th century,being quite harmonically advanced and melodically interesting. His Requiem Mass is the longest and most extreme example of this. There is another excellent performance of this work available for streaming on YouTube conducted by Francis-Xavier Roth, but this one features the incomparable soprano Roberta Invernizzi at an early stage of her career.
G. GOULD: Lieberson Madrigal / Claron McFadden, soprano; Marie Thérèse Keller, mezzo-soprano; Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, tenor; Harry van der Kamp, bass; Emile Naoumoff, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2, parts 3 & 4
G. GOULD: So You Want to Write a Fugue? / Elisabeth Benson-Guy, soprano; Anita Darian, mezzo-soprano; Charles Bressler, tenor; Donald Gramm, bass; Juilliard String Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube
G. GOULD: String Quartet, Op. 1 / Catalyst Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube
Back in the 1960s, I happened to chance upon a used copy of an issue of High Fidelity magazine with the legend on the front cover: “Included inside: Glenn Gould’s ‘So You Want to Write a Fugue?’” And by golly, there it was: one of those cardboard records that have since gone the way of the dinosaur, which had a bit of trouble tracking on my stereo system, but it played. A really cute, tongue-in-cheek fugue written by Glenn Gould.
Composition was always one of Gould’s strongest interests, but because of his busy playing and recording schedules he never had enough time to pursue it as he really wished. By and large, the String Quartet is his one fully-formed, monumental work, and it is extraordinarily interesting, largely tonal but always veering off into Schoenbergian harmonies… quintessential Glenn Gould. The Two Piano Pieces, though brief, are also quite fine, as is the Lieberson Madrigal. In short, though he wrote very little, everything Gould wrote was of a very high quality. Would that I could say the same about many other modern composers!
M. GOULD: Boogie Woogie Etude / José Iturbi, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube (also see collections: Iturbi)
M. GOULD: Dance Variations / Arthur Whittemore & Jack Lowe, duo-pianists; San Francisco Symphony Orchestra; Leopold Stokowski, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
M. GOULD: Fall River Legend – Ballet Suite / Eastman-Rochester Orchestra; Howard Hanson, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
M. GOULD: Harvest / New Russia Orchestra; David Amos, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
M. GOULD: Interplay / Cor de Groot, pianist; Hague Philharmonic Orchestra; Willem van Otterloo, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
M. GOULD: Pavanne / Morton Gould and his Orchestra / available for free streaming on YouTube
Just as I sometimes feel that Aaron Copland was an overrated composer, I think that Morton Gould was underrated, but in a sense he had himself to blame for that. Like the great German tenor Richard Tauber, Gould produced a lot of pop music junk, including arrangements of Rodgers & Hammerstein that no one asked him to write. He just had a strong populist streak in him that sometimes overcame his better instincts; yet he did write one piece that because a pop hit, the Pavanne (recorded by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra even before Gould himself recorded it), and several of his other pieces showed a strong jazz flavor, particularly in the ballet Interplay written for Agnes de Mille. Harvest is one of his most interesting and introspective works, light and delicate, with a harmonic feeling about it comparable to the music of his contemporary Roy Harris. All of the performances above are good and interesting; ratings often depend on the sound quality.
GOUNOD: Faust / Jerry Hadley, tenor (Faust); Samuel Ramey, bass (Méphistophéles); Alexander Agache, baritone (Valentin); Cecilia Gasdia, soprano (Marguerite); Susanne Mentzer, mezzo (Siebel); Brigitte Fassbaender, mezzo (Marthe); Welsh National Opera Orchestra & Chorus; Carlo Rizzi, conductor / Warner Classics 2564 67691-5
Although Gounod wrote some fine songs, among them L’Absent and O Divine Redeemer, not to mention the popular operas Mirielle and Roméo et Juliette, it is Faust on which most of his reputation rests. Enormously and perennially popular, the tunefulness of the work tends to mask just how beautifully constructed the whole thing is. Of course, it needs a top-flight cast and conductor to bring out its best qualities, and these are not always present even in “all star” recordings.
This set conducted by Carlo Rizzi truly makes the entire work sound fresh and new. How he did it remains a bit of a mystery, but to some extent it was because he chose to de-emphasize the “rat-a-tat-tat” of the dance rhythms in several numbers and concentrate on pulling the whole thing together as a musico-dramatic work. It also didn’t hurt that Jerry Hadley is the most lyrically sensitive and dramatically interesting Faust on records, or that Cecilia Gasdia, Suzanne Mentzer and Alexendru Agache make real, three-dimensional characters out of their oft-tossed-off roles. This is truly a performance in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and I can’t say enough good things about it. The only drawback is that Gasdia’s trill in the “Jewel Song” is rather sketchy, and Samuel Ramey doesn’t even attempt any of his trills, but these are small complaints against the greatness of the entire project.
GRANADOS: Danse Espagnole, excerpts: No. 2, Oriental / José Iturbi, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
No. 5: Andaluza / Emanuel Feuermann, cellist; Michael Taube, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
GRANADOS: Goyescas / Nikita Magaloff, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
A minor but interesting composer, Granados left us a handful of songs and instrumental pieces of great beauty, none as good as the complete Goyescas, played here by the great Georgian pianist Nikita Magaloff.
Grétry, André Modeste Ernest
GRÉTRY: L’Épreuve Villageoise (Complete opera) / Sophie Junker, soprano (Denise); Talise Trevigne, soprano (Madame Hubert); Thomas Dolié, baritone (Monsieur de la France); Francisco Fernández-Rueda, tenor (André); Opera Lafayette; Ryan Brown, conductor / Naxos 8.660377
Grétry, once considered not only a popular but an enormously talented composer, has somehow been pushed aside in the course of history, but this utterly charming comic opera—surely the equal of anything Pergolesi ever wrote—remained in the repertoire for nearly a century after its premiere. It receives here a splendid performance, sporting both excellent singing and lively interpretation.
GRÉTRY: Flute Concerto in C / Jean-Pierre Rampal, flautist; Armand Birbaum, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Another fine example of how Grétry could sound like Mozart. His flute concerto is justly famous for its witty inventions and sprightly rhythms, and compared to what we generally get nowadays, Jean-Pierre Rampal sounds like Jimmy Galway.
GRIEG: Lyric Pieces: Book I, Waltz; Album Leaf. Book II, Cradle Song; Melody. Book III: Butterfly; Lonely Wanderer; In My Native Land; Little Bird; Erotic; To the Spring. Book IV: Album Leaf; Melody; Norwegian Dance. Book V: Shepherd Boy; March of the Dwarfs; Notturno; Bellringing. Book VI: Homesickness. Book VII: French Serenade; Phantom; Homeward. Book VIII: From Days of Youth; Peasant’s Song; Wedding Day at Troldhaugen. Book IX: Grandmother’s Minuet; At Your Feet; At the Cradle. Book X: Summer Evening; Puck; Peace of the Woods; Remembrances / Walter Gieseking, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
GRIEG: Holberg Suite / Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Herbert von Karajan, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A minor / Dinu Lipatti, pianist; Philharmonia Orchestra; Alceo Galliera, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
With the exception of his famous Piano Concerto, a really fine piece, Grieg was essentially a miniaturist. His books of Lyric Pieces for Piano are justly famous; the Holberg Suite is not nearly as well known as his vastly overrated Peer Gynt Suite. These are my favorite performances of all of these, although I also like Toscanini’s version of the Holberg Suite as much as I do Karajan’s.
The Grieg Piano Sonata is one of the not-as-well-lnown gems of his output. I really like Daria Gloukhova’s performance for its non-sentimental approach.
GRIEG: Songs – see Collections: Björling, Schiøtz, Schumann-Heink, Hampson, Nezhdanova
GRIEG: String Quartet in G minor / Budapest String Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube
The Grieg String Quartet needs a certain approach in order to make it work: brisk, but also very intense, with a string sound bordering on folk violins. This early Budapest Quartet recording—made when there were still Hungarians in the ensemble and not all Russians—was considered a classic for decades, but has now fallen on hard times. Note the use of portamento here, now a decided no-no among string quartets. It needs to be heard more often.
Too many listeners tend to think of Fritz Kreisler as a somewhat shallow interpreter,concerned more with beauty of tone than real interpretation, but in this recording—particularly the third movement—he achieves the kind of folk-music style so necessary to Grieg’s music, and Sergei Rachmaninov plays with his usual brisk energy.
Griffes, Charles Tomlinson
GRIFFES: Songs / see collections: Hampson. By a Lonely Forest Pathway / Elisabeth Rethberg, soprano; unknown pianist / click on title for free streaming
GRIFFES: Fantasy Pieces / Lenore Engdahl, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube, move cursor to 29:29
GRIFFES: Four German Songs: Auf geheimem Waldespfade; An den Wind; Meeres Stille; Am Kreuzweg wird Brgraben. Song of the Dagger / Sherrill Milnes, baritone; Jon Spong, pianist / Four Impressions: Le Jardin; Impression du Matin; La Mer; Le Réveillon / Olivia Stapp, mezzo-soprano; Diane Richardson, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clocking on individual titles
GRIFFES: The Kairn of Koridwen / Sato Moughalian, flautist; Alan R. Kay, Jo-Ann Sternberg, clarinetists’ David Jolley, Christopher Komer, hornists; Barbara Allen, harpist; Diane Walsh, pianist; Yves Abel, celeste / available for free streaming on YouTube
GRIFFES: Nocturne for Orchestra (orchestrated version of 2nd mvmt of Piano Sonata) Notturno für Orchester / American Arts Orchestra; Karl Kreuger, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking individual titles
GRIFFES: Piano Sonata. 3 Tone-Pictures. Winter Landscape. Fantasy Pieces. Rhapsody in B minor. De Profundis. Roman Sketches / Emanuele Torquati, pianist / Brilliant Classics BC95349
GRIFFES: The Pleasure-Dome of Kubla Khan / Boston Symphony Orchestra; Seiji Ozawa, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
GRIFFES: Poeme for Flute and Orchestra / Scott Goff, flautist; Seattle Symphony Orchestra; Gerard Schwarz, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
GRIFFES: Three Poems of Fiona McLeod: The Lament of Ian the Proud; Thy Dark Eyes to Mine; The Rose of the Night / Phyllis Bryn-Julson, soprano; Boston Symphony Orchestra; Seiji Ozawa, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles
GRIFFES: Two Sketches on Indian Themes / Coolidge Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube
GRIFFES: Three Tone Pictures: The Veil of Dreams; The Night Winds; The Lake at Evening / New York Chamber Ensemble; Stephen Rogers Radcliffe, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles
The music of Charles T. Griffes had little vogue or popularity during his lifetime except for The Pleasure-Dome of Kubla Khan, which created a sensation at its Boston Symphony premiere, but he had the misfortune of dying at age 36 before he could really savor his newfound fame and capitalize on it. In the previous 13 years, he had composed a surprisingly large body of quality music based first on German Romantic models and then on the French impressionists. He eventually found his own voice with The Kairn of Kuridwen, a pantomime-ballet he directed himself from the piano in New York in the late ‘teens. It bombed. So too did his surprisingly modern, Stravinsky-ish Piano Sonata. After his death, his delicate, French-styled Poeme for Flute and Orchestra became the one piece of his that established itself as a concert favorite.
During the period from about 1956 to 1975, various pieces of Griffes had their vogue, particularly the songs and the impressionistic piano works. In the early 1970s New World Records released a true masterpiece of an album featuring all the songs listed above by Sherrill Milnes, Olivia Stapp and Phyllis Bryn-Julson, along with orchestal performances of the Three Tone Pictures and The Pleasure-Dome of Kubla Khan. Happily, most of that album is available digitally for free streaming on YouTube. Eventually, Ensemble M released a splendid recording of The Kairn of Koridwen, but since that is not available online I have substituted the recording listed above. I personally prefer James Tocco’s performance of the Piano Sonata above all others, but since that, too, seems to have disappeared, I recommend the one by Emanuele Torquati which is excellent in every respect. In addition, Torquati’s performances of the other works are excellent, and this CD includes some pieces seldom heard elsewhere (such as Winter Landscape, De Profundis and the Rhapsody in B minor).
Griffes’ growth as an artist between 1907 and 1920 was steady and astonishing, and he rarely wrote a single piece that was banal or uninteresting. Check out the collections section of this guide (when published) for Thomas Hampson’s performances of his songs. Finally, I would like to point out that the first of the Four German Songs, “Auf Geheimem Waldespfade,” is a German-language version of “By a Lonely Forest Pathway,” which works much better for a soprano sung in English. Of the two early recordings I’ve heard, I actually prefer Elisabeth Rethberg’s version to that by Eleanor Steber. Steber’s voice, though beautiful, is a bit too thick in tone for the delicate tracery of this song, and she doesn’t sing the rhythms exactly as written.
GUDMUNDSEN-HOLMGREEN: Mirror II for Orchestra. Symphony, Antiphony. Incontri / BBC Symphony Orchestra; Thomas Dausgaard, conductor / Dacapo 8.226120 or available for free streaming on YouTube in small segments
GUDMUNDSEN-HOLMGREEN: No Ground (String Quartet No. 11)*. Green (To the greenwood must we go)+. No Ground Green*+. New Ground (String Quartet No. 10)*. New Ground Green*+ / *Kronos Quartet; +Theater of Voices, dir. Paul Hillier / Dacapo 8.226153, available for free streaming on YouTube in small segments
If you read my reviews for 2016, you will know that Pelle Gudmondsen-Holmgreen was one of my more recent “discoveries,” though he had been around for decades. Some of his music I found to be a bit too over-the-top, bordering on silly, but the pieces listed above will give one a fair sampling of his absurdist musical art. Gudmundsen-Holmgreen is a joker, like John Cage, the difference being that he never tried to pass off his music as serious, the way Cage did. His way of chopping up bits of his own music and mixing the different parts together in unusual ways may confuse some listeners, but I find it delightful within bounds.
GURDJIEFF: Armenian Song. Sayyid Chants and Dances: No. 10, No. 29 / Seouj Kradjian, pianist / part of Atma Classique 2655
The music of George Gurdjieff creates its own aura of meditation about it. The pieces above are excellent examples of his miniaturist art.